'Each man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world'
-- Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms

'Artists are tricky fellows sir, forever shaping the world according to some design of their own'
-- Jonathan Strange, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Remember the Neocons?

The rush to say, ‘I knew I was right’

David Ucko at kingsofwar blogs on recent articles arguing that neoconservatism has been ‘proved right’ by recent events in Tunisia and Egypt (and now Jordan and Yemen) in that the basic struggle for recognition (Fukuyama) feeds an unquenchable thirst for democratic rule. The crux of the new defence of neoconservatism is here:

‘But though the neoconservatives have been down, they are not out. For with popular unrest sweeping the Middle East, from Tunisia to Yemen to Egypt, the neoconservative ideal – that the West must stand firm for the non-negotiable demands of human dignity; that is, the rule of law, limits on the power of the state, respect for women, private property, free speech, equal justice, and religious tolerance – looks more attractive than it has done for years.

Ucko argues cogently against this observation but the real point is that neoconservatism has become such a loose amalgam of ideas that the doctrine can never be proved false, as it can neither be proven correct. It was Karl Popper who proposed a novel solution to the problem of how to demarcate science and non-science. According to his principle of falsificationism, a theory was scientific if it could be proved false – in that way the theory was rigorous enough to potentially be falsified by new data set. In non-science, Popper argued, the theories - and here Freud’s work was noted – were so vague and so subject to interpretation that they could never be proved false – merely they would become reinvented should data occur to potentially falsify the theory. Falsificationism was used by Judge William Overton in determining that ‘creation science’ was unscientific and should not be taught in schools in the state of Arkansas.

There are elements in neoconservatism to extract and utilise in the current analysis of events in the Maghreb and Middle East – Fukuyama certainly has relevance. But can anyone concisely define what neoconservatism has become? Is it Tony Blair’s speech delivered at the Economic Club, Chicago, April 24, 1999? Is it about coercing the democratic wave, provided the leaders elected thereafter sit well with U.S. national interest? Is it instead about censorship and the banning of pornography, as advocated by Irving Kristol, to save society? We had better get used to the presence of neoconservative doctrine, and a lot of people saying that what is happening now in the Maghreb and Middle East has proved them right.    

See further:
Stelzer, Irwin ed. (2004) Neoconservatism (London: Atlantic)
Gordon, Philip H. (2003) ‘Bush’s Middle East Vision’, Survival, 45(1), pp.155-165
Kagan, R. and Kristol, W. eds. (2000) Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in American Foreign and Defense Policy (San Francisco: Encounter) 

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